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Rothenberg: Most Vulnerable of '14? Pryor by a Hair

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Landrieu, left, and Pryor, right, are the two most vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2014, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Landrieu has had the closer races, winning with only 52.1 percent in 2008, 51.7 percent in 2002 and 50.2 percent in 1996 against a series of challengers who have ranged from weak to not bad.

Pryor, the son of a former governor and senator, was first elected to the Senate with almost 54 percent, when he defeated a sitting Republican senator. He did not have a GOP opponent when he ran for re-election in 2008.

In some ways, Louisiana and Arkansas are politically similar. Democrats were able to hold on to working-class white voters in both states for longer than they were able to elsewhere in the South, which kept Republicans from taking over the two states until recently. But that has changed now.

Surprisingly (to me, at least), African- Americans constitute 32 percent of the population of Louisiana but only 15 percent of the population of Arkansas. Thatís a substantial difference and an obvious advantage for Landrieu, if she can turn out those reliably Democratic minority voters.

Landrieu already has an opponent: Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge-area physician first elected to Congress in 2008. But Cassidy, who served briefly in the state senate, isnít likely to clear the field, and, as one GOP insider told me, ďYou canít apply the same political rules to Louisiana that work everywhere else. You wonít have an idea about who is running for the Senate until June of 2014.Ē

A February survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed Landrieu leading a number of Republicans in head-to-head ballot tests, albeit narrowly. On the other hand, a poll done by GOP firm Basswood Research for the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund showed Pryor trailing freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton by 8 points.

Moreover, it was less than three years ago that moderate Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost re-election in what admittedly was a bad Democratic year. Still, the size of Lincolnís defeat ó she drew only 36.9 percent of the vote ó is a stark reminder of the challenges any Democrat now faces in this state.

Either the 4th Districtís Cotton or 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack seems to be the mostly likely Republican nominee against Pryor, and GOP strategists seem confident that either one can and will beat the senator. Democrats, on the other hand, are clearly worried about both Pryor and Landrieu.

Itís a close call on who is more vulnerable, but Iíd probably pick Pryor, especially if Cotton runs. The Harvard-educated Iraq veteran who worked for McKinsey would be an especially difficult opponent for Pryor, and the Democratic base in Arkansas appears to be evaporating quickly.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com). Read more at his blog, Rothenblog (blogs.rollcall.com/rothenblog).

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